He came, he saw, he fell—twice. But what made North Korean athlete Jong Kwang Bom’s abysmal performance at the men’s short track speed skating 500m heat particularly memorable was his attempt to take down his Japanese rival by grabbing his blade.
The seventh and last of Tuesday's heats featured athletes from South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and North Korea—oddly representative of the four main players involved in the current geopolitical tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Jong, who at 16 was the youngest skater in the heat, fell flat on his chest within a few seconds of the start of the race. While lying on the ice, he extended his arm and grabbed the Japanese speed skater Keita Watanabe’s blade, in what was either a willful attempt to trip the athlete or to force a restart.
Watanabe managed to shake off Jong’s grip and kept skating, but the race was halted and restarted as the North Korean cheerleaders, spotting the camera on them, began their carefully coordinated cheers. Jong again bumped into Watanabe a few times before falling again and tripping American speed skater Thomas Insuk Hong.
Jong was then disqualified, and the race continued, with Watanabe and South Korean athlete Daeheon Hwang winning second and first place respectively and qualifying for the quarter-finals.
According to reports on Yahoo Sports and USA Today, which both misidentified Watanabe as his team mate Ryosuke Sakazume, the Japanese athlete brushed off the incident.
The American skater too was diplomatic in discussing Jong’s fall. “It did affect me because I was just too close,” Hong told USA Today. “But unpredictability and short track just go hand-in-hand.”
Jong, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not comment.
North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympic Games had so far been relatively controversy-free, albeit not particularly successful. The United Korean women's ice hockey team suffered a string of heavy losses and failed to qualify for the semifinals.
The North Korean figure skating pair scored the country’s highest result in the discipline to date, but that only placed them 13th of the overall 16 teams competing in both the short program and free skating disciplines.
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